We continue our look at twenty great Big Finish releases in celebration of Big Finish’s Twentieth Anniversary. This week we’ll cover numbers 15-11. See Part One for numbers 20-16.
15) Dan Dare, Volume 2
Being an American, I never grew up with Colonel Dan Dare of Space Fleet as portrayed in Britain’s Eagle Comics, but Big Finish’s two Dan Dare releases in association with B7 helped me fall in love with this iconic British character. He begins as a bit of a cynic but quickly shows his stuff as a tough, principled, courageous, and tenacious hero as he battles his arch-enemy The Mekon as well as a few other baddies. This is imaginative, swashbuckling space fun with great moments. At the same time, Dare has to deal with corruption and political skullduggery that often undermines his mission. For me, this volume stands out because of the final story as Dare’s mental battle with The Mekon.
14) Doctor Who Unbound: Masters of War:
For the fortieth anniversary of Doctor Who, The Doctor Who Unbound range took a look at and altered several key concepts and events of the Doctor Who Universe. In “Sympathy for the Devil,” Emmy award-winning actor David Warner was introduced as an alternate version of the Third Doctor (played on television by Jon Pertwee) who arrived on the earth in 1996 rather than in the 1970s as happened on TV.
This release was a sequel released five years later as this alternative universe Doctor is now traveling with his new companion, retired Brigadier Alastir Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) as they land on Skaro, the homeworld of the Daleks, the Doctor’s most iconic enemies where they are lording over the Thals. The Doctor being the Doctor, he is here to liberate the Thals from the Daleks. In our Universe, the Daleks are out to “exterminate,” to “conquer and destroy.” But in this Unbound Universe, the Daleks want peace.
This raises a lot of questions. How did this other Universe’s Daleks develop differently? What did their creator Davros do differently? How will they interact with the Daleks? This story offers a different spin on one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time, Genesis of the Daleks, and it holds up. It’s a massive audio story at two and a half hours long, but in my opinion, well worth it as we get great acting from Warner, Courtney, and Terry Malloy (Davros), and a solid script. This is the type of story that’s best enjoyed by fans who’ve seen the original stories that these are based on, but it could also be enjoyed as a sci-fi epic in its own right.
Warner would reprise his role as the Unbound Doctor in two box sets in 2016 and 2017 alongside Big Finish’s first dramatic hero Bernice Summerfield and those are both good solid collections, though not quite as epic as this.
13) Death and the Queen
The chronically single Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) is swept off her feet by the prince of a distant land which the Doctor (David Tennant) had never heard of. The prince asks Donna to marry him, but of course, Donna learns there’s a catch.
The story has some great comedic moments and is a bit of a fractured fairy tale with a science fiction twist. Tennant and Tate are one of most beloved pairings of Doctor and Companion in the revived series and this story is a great example of how charming these characters are together and how well the actors play off each other. The script moves at a fast pace while providing good dramatic scenes and a great resolution. This makes a great audio drama and would have worked very well on television.
12) 1963: Fanfare for the Common Men
The Fifth Doctor and his companion Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) arrive in 1963 with the Doctor determined to show Nyssa the Beatles. The Doctor is in for a surprise as he discovers the Beatles have been replaced in time by another band known as the Common Men.
The story’s premise, the mystery, and its solution are perfect. The gorgeous Abbey Road-theme cover art is a delight. The music is well-done and really creates a 1960s feels for the world of the story’s wannabe Beatles.
Beyond that, the story makes an effective use of Nyssa not being from Earth as well as having her own separate storyline. The entire cast performed well, and the story has the added bonus of being easily accessible even to those who haven’t listened to Big Finish before.
The Companion Chronicles range at Big Finish are typically dramatized audiobooks featuring an actor who played a companion of the Doctor telling a story of one of their adventures with the aide of another actor. This one is instead a two-handed audio drama without narration.
Eighth Doctor companion Charlotte “Charley” Pollard (India Fisher) arrives in a toy shop with amnesia, not even remembering who she is at first. She quickly finds the shopkeeper of this Toy Store is the Celestial Toymaker (David Bailie)who gives her no choice but to play a mysterious game that the player doesn’t realize they’re playing, and the game rules are unknown.
At its core, this feels like an old Twilight Zone story as the tension builds throughout towards the twist ending. The two-voice radio drama works brilliantly. The actors are perfect, Fisher plays Charley as unnerved and confused at first, but whose intelligence leads her closer to the truth. Bailie manages to imbue the Toymaker with a sinister sense of mystery. The story grows increasingly claustrophobic, and we get great interactions between these two actors and a wonderful payoff.
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